April 5th, 2012 | Album reviews

Dan Kern

The Total Groovy
Drag City

Buzzcocks founder Pete Shelley has always surprised his public. Just think of the overt craziness of “Orgasm Addict,” or the hinted gay innuendoes of “Ever Fallen in Love (with Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” that exploded later into righteously electronic gay anthems such as the BBC-banned “Homosapien.” Yet even I was floored by the revelations on this Drag City box set, which contains the entire catalog of his short-lived, spaced-out noise, late 70s label Groovy Records—even the name hints at a secret life behind the backs of his punk brethren. The earliest tracks are the two 20-minute sides of the first Pete Shelley “single,” a solid noise experiment that consists entirely of manipulated electronic oscillations—something like a mixture of Morton Subotnick and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, except it should be noted that this was recorded in 1974, one year earlier than Reed’s cacophonous noise masterpiece! Shelley also plays on an interesting coupla soundtrack cuts by Sally Timms, later famous as the singer for the Mekons, here going by the clever pseudonym “Sally Smmit” and spreading her sonorous voice across droning synths accompanied by tape-spliced synths and the occasional battered tom tom. Tracks by Strange Men in Sheds With Spanners make up the bulk of this collection, hinting at what Can might have sounded like with PiL’s Keith Levene on guitar. But the best track is “Side A” by the only Shelley-less band on here, Free Agents. Complete noise that jumps into torrid demo-ey chugging, it’s like The Faust Tapes, except composed, not randomly stuck together. Hey, Wayne Coyne! The punks were taking acid all along.

D.M. Collins